When I walked into Clooney's Pub at noon no one at the bar turned around to check the door. The regulars had long since taken their seats at the bar, the baseball game was on, and the guy playing pool by himself under the illumination of a Budweiser light was focused on his shot. The stools, with green carpeted backs, looked grimier than BART seats. If we weren't in the heart of the Mission, it would be an unexpected place to get a really good sandwich.
The Galley is a closet-sized kitchen inside of Clooney's Pub that opens through a Dutch door with a porthole window. Chef and owner Justin Navarro is there Tuesday through Friday working the griddle and offering a small menu of sandwiches from noon to 2 p.m. and in the evening from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. He just celebrated three years in business, and there's one sandwich that's been a favorite from the beginning.
The French onion sandwich tastes exactly like you hope it would: French onion soup reinvented as a sandwich. No spoons, no soggy croutons, and more meat. You get bites of onions that have been cooked to sweet perfection in beef broth, melted provolone cheese, and steaming slices of roast beef. He doesn't bother with artisan bread (gasp!) and it's a good thing -- a reminder of how satisfying simple sandwich bread can be when it's buttery, crispy and soft.
"My step-mom was a horrible cook, so it was a necessity to learn how to cook," says Navarro on how he got started in the kitchen. "It was eat her horrible food or figure it out, so I chose to figure out." After managing several Starbucks, Navarro set out to open his own place, ideally taking over affordable, vacant kitchen space at a bar. Clooney's was the first place he walked into.
Since then he's earned a solid following of folks hankering for his pepperoncini-style pickled eggs, a killer grilled cheese, and a hearty breakfast sandwich called the AM. "It's been a lot of learning and a lot of fun, and maybe too much drinking," he says. "I mean, I'm five steps from a bar 60 hours a week, that has to be a bad idea." He's got a point, but for those of us with a hot roast beef sandwich in one hand, having a beer in the other is most certainly a good idea.